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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Publishing Student Writing -- and Your Own

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

When I was a classroom teacher, my kids published a lot of books. We carefully finished our pages and then used the plastic spiral binder in the teachers' room to bind the pages into book form. We would put them on display in the classroom or in the library.

Publishing was important. It gave me the opportunity to take the moral high ground and ask the kids to do their very best because their writing was headed for publication. We all know that real audiences make a difference. And you've probably seen this when a classroom assignment goes from being something that only the teacher will see to something peers and the whole school will see. Effort and results go up.

Easier Than It Seems

But publishing a book doesn't only bring the best out of our students. For more than two years, I had been carrying an idea for a book in my mind and in my heart. I had the text mostly written but needed an illustrator and a publisher. I finally opened my eyes and found the illustrator living right here with me -- my wife. Now, all I needed was a publisher.

This is when I remembered talking with people who had self-published their books online through a Web site called Lulu. Two of those folks, David Warlick and Doug Johnson, I highly respect for their thinking on the effective and innovative use of technology to support schools, students, teachers, and their communities.

So it was now time to get this thing done. I got serious about cleaning up the text, and my wife got serious about doing the illustrations. First, I created my account on Lulu. As a frugal Yankee, I appreciated the fact everything was free and that I would have to pay only if I ordered hard copies of my book. I read forums on the Web site about what works and installed NeoOffice on my MacBook.

When the text and images were ready, I put them together in a NeoOffice document and exported it as a PDF file. Of course, I had to spend a bit of time figuring out how the numbering of pages works, where to put the title page, and other things a real publisher would have done for me. But I was learning, and the sense of empowerment when I uploaded the finished document was palpable -- I had done it!

Next, I used the supplied templates to create a cover. I inserted a photo of my wife and me on the back and a picture of a California gray whale fluking off the coast of Oregon for the front, along with the title. With the cover uploaded, the project was complete.

Hard Copies, or Virtual?

Credit: Jim Moulton

I was tempted at this point to put a link on my Web site and order a bunch of the books to sell at conferences. But Lulu has obviously worked with many rookies, and the site warned me to begin by ordering only one hard copy to make sure it really was the book I had carried in my mind and heart for so long. I listened to the site's counsel, ordered one, and waited impatiently for a week or so.

When it came, I read it, achieved a new level of humility, and set about fixing the multiple mistakes I found. Trust me, I have a new respect for editing. Yeah, I've edited stuff before, but this was our book. I made the changes, uploaded the updated files, and ordered another hard copy. That came, and I found one last flaw. I then uploaded one more set of updates and called it finished. But I still worried, just like a student. When the audience is real, the quality matters so much more.

So, there you go. Our published book is called Computers Can, Computers Can't.

Students as Published Authors

Ever since I used the Lulu Web site to create our book, I have been actively encouraging teachers to publish their books. I'm interested to find out how many educators there are out there like David, Doug, my wife, and me. Have you used Lulu or any other self-publishing utility to put your kids' work into a book? Are you an elementary school teacher who took that ABC book to a new level or a social studies teacher who has made oral histories of local old-timers part of the community collection of text in the school and local libraries? What about doing Anytown Middle School: Our Writing, 2009 and including in it one piece from each student?

And, of course, when you publish online, you can make your book available to anyone, or you can restrict access. So, how about creating a book with your class and sharing it with a class across town, across the state, across the nation, or across the globe?

The bottom line is, you can do so much. The only limit will be your creativity.

Remember, if you've self-published with your students, please share. I'd love to know what folks are doing and, as always, what you think are the best technology tools out there.

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Comments (52)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Hawaiian Sunshine's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is an answer to what I have been trying to do for the past year. This would be a great boon to my Digital Storytelling Unit with my ELL students. They have precious stories that need to be shared and remembered. Using technology will be the greatest "hook" for these students. Mahalo

Eric Cole's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great job Jim!
Keith and I presented the idea born in your session at NCTIES2009, and again for a class of Graduate students. It was very well received. A collection of students writing is a much better fund raiser than selling candy cars.

Transforming From Writers To AuthorsView more presentations from ericcole.

Cathy McDonald's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The pictures in your book are wonderful. Were they scanned into a PDF document? If not, how did you get them there? Is there another way besides Adobe to do this? If done in MS Word, the pictures cannot be used. I would love to do this, and I suppose we could do text only, but I wonder about having the proper programs to make it happen. Do you have any suggestions?

Josh's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I have to admit that when I read the title to your blog post, I thought that it was going to be about blogs or some other digital form of publishing, which is something that I'm trying to get my fourth graders involved in. But, like with so many things in life, I didn't get at all what I expected, I got something better.

My students have been working with blogs but despite the worldwide audience and multimedia nature of the medium, something is missing for them, and for me. After reading your post, I now realize that what's missing is that for them, for me, and clearly for you, there is something special about publishing a real, rip the pages, drop it in a puddle, lose it in your house book.

I think I'll try to publish a book for my class by the end of our year.
Thank you for the inspiration.

Sincerely, Josh

marcie lane's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


Thanks so much for your inspiration. I want to do this very much with my class. This would make their work so much more meaningful. When I think of doing something like this, I always have doubt, but your article has inspired me. I'm going to get serious--I think I can!!!


Marcie Lane
7th and 8th Grade Gifted
Rome, GA

Mary's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My grade level (kindergarten) became published authors for the first time this year. Each classroom choose a topic and with the help of student treasures we were able to have our students work published and bound together in an actual book at no cost to us. The only "stipulation" is that we send home notes asking parents to purchase the books. Many did not but it was still a great experience! I would love to get the nerve up to write and publish a book of my own someday!

Coker Wimberly

Kyrie Pyle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Kyrie and I am 17 years old. I and writing a book and my AP Lit. teacher recomminded this site to me. I'm currently in 10th grade and I dont know how to go about publishing my own book(s). How should I go about this? I really need help. If anybody has any suggestions, contact me at p3kyriepyle@yahoo.com.... Thank you!

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

There is plenty of help for novices right on the LULU web site's Help Page. Pay attention to the tutorials in the upper right.

Now there are other places to get help in publishing as well. I found this post from a blog called "Grumpy Old Bookman," entitled ""Page Layout for Beginners." Well worth listening to the veterans.

But you know what? Just, as the ad says, do it. Get started and explore. I have to believe the hardest part is doing the writing. Oh, and the page layout... And oh, yes, the editing...

But have fun! And for added encouragement, here is a poetry book published by an English III class in York, PA. They have been doing this for several years now. Hey, if they can do it, so can you.

Oh, and one more thing - wouldn't a link to your book look good on your college applications? Just a thought...


Jim Moulton

Danielle Rinard's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree. I was not expecting the bloggs. I am very inspired to do this with my class. Thank you.

Laura Shrigley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My names is Laura and I am currently taking my Master's through Walden University. As a course requriement we were to browse through and participate in these blogs and am I ever gald we did. Wow, I didn't even know anything like this existed! I just got finished teaching kindergarten and we had a "sharing celebration" of our stories using a document camera in our classroom. What an amazing idea! I may be teaching in a first grade classroom and was trying to explore ways of putting our class stories online so that they could be shared with their families from home. Thanks for the wonderful and amazing idea! it also goes to show us who aren't so tech saavy a reason to upgrade our skills!

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